Archive for the ‘ Reviews and Recommendations ’ Category

Review: To Be Real

I always read at least two books at once. One is always a novel, and the other is more often than not a collection of feminist essays. Most of these collections read like a school assignment. There are a few interesting essays, and a lot of uninspiring rambling. In contrast, the collection “To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism” was a pure delight.

Now don’t get me wrong, as in any anthology, some pieces are better than others. However, this one had a much higher good read to tedious read ratio.

Published in 1995 and edited by Rebecca Walker, this collection seeks to break down notions of what makes a feminist, showing the “infinite number of moments and experiences that make up feminist empowerment.” This is a collection that goes beyond experiences of being a women in a sexist society, and explores contradictions and ambiguity. It’s about lesbians embracing a femme identity, it’s about fulfilling a white wedding fantasy, it’s about male dykes, rape fantasies, and creating a sexy bachelor parties without female strippers. It’s about coming to terms with your feminist “failures” and knowing that those makes you no less of a feminist.

Though published 15 years ago (Was 1995 really 15 years ago!?), these essays are as relevant as ever.

In the introduction, Rebecca Walker writes, “A year before  I started this book, my life was like a feminist ghetto. Every decision I made, person I spend time with, word I uttered, had to measure up to an image of what was morally and politically right according to my vision of female empowerment.” A decade and a half later, young feminists struggles with this same dilemma. (Or perhaps I should say, me and my peer circle struggle with this same dilemma- I don’t know for a fact that other worry about the same thing, though I have a sneaking suspicion that they do.) I wonder how my sexual desires fit with a feminist identity. I worry that I am buying into mainstream culture too much as I write a fashion blog. I question my ability to be a “good” feminist because I’m spoiled with white privilege. This book explores the array of ways that feminism manifested during the third wave.

Essays I particularly enjoyed include “Femmenism” by Jeannine Delombard on merging third wave feminism with third wave lesbianism, “Identity Politics” by Jennifer Allyn and David Allyn on merging names in marriage, and “Close, But No Banana” by Anna Bondoc on coming to terms with ones political “failures”. Seriously, this collection is worth having on your shelf, or at least worth checking out from your local library.

Recommendation: The Laramie Project

If you have never seen the play “The Laramie Project,” I hereby insist that you see it. For those unfamiliar with it, The Laramie Project is a play written by the Tectonic Theater Project after conducting hundreds of interviews in Laramie, Wyoming, following the brutal beating of Matthew Shepard in 1998. The play chronically life in the town of Laramie during the year following the murder.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing a local university production. Pleasure may not be the correct word, however, as it’s an emotionally draining play. The cast of eight actors all play multiple roles, from friends, to law enforcement, the accused, to the family. I’m not one to cry during theater peformances, but I felt a few tears.

I had seen the play many years ago at a small local theater. I know that it was prior to 2003, and I’m pretty sure I was in middle school. The first time I saw it, I was shocked by the use of the words “faggot” and “dyke,” but also thrilled to know that gay people existed everywhere. This time I was struck by how much a tragedy affects an entire community. Just as studies on larger human rights violations often end in an exploration of the aftermath that the entire community must face, The Laramie Project explores how one event can change the course of a town.

I don’t want to give away too much more. The Laramie Project is one of the most performed plays in American. Find a production near you. If that fails, check out the film based on the play. Or check out the script from your local library. It’s worth it. I promise.

Let’s Talk About Books

I love books. I love the feel of thin pages between my fingers. I love how the spine creaks when you open a brand new edition. I love sharing books. I love giving them as presents. I love rummaging through piles of books at garage sales or thrift stores. I love getting lost in a story.

And of course, I love reading books.

I recently speed through Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. The introduction was a little bit slow, but once I got into the body of the text, I couldn’t put it down. It combined the excitement and mountaineering adventures of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air with the boldness and unconventionality of Dr. Paul Farmer as profiled in Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains. Couple that with stories of female education and empowerment (a la Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran), and you have a book that everyone should read. It’s one of those stories that proves that vision and determination can lead to social change, and that something small can turn into something much bigger. Three Cups of Tea certainly has its share of hard facts, but it provides the dream of an uplifting future, even in regions where the Taliban sometimes control civilization.

[NOTE: Apparently, a sequel entitled “Stones into Schools” was released in December 2009. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan on it.]

And this brings me to my next item of discussion. I need book recommendations. As you may or may not have gathered, I will soon be starting a graduate program in Women’s/Gender/Sexuality Studies. Since,  beginning in August, I’ll be reading and writing nonstop for the next two, five, six, or twelve years, I figure I might as well get started now.

  • While my undergraduate work allowed me to explore a variety of women’s and gender issues both national and internationally, theory was largely absent. I need both feminist theory and queer theory. What are those works you consider essential reading?
  • More specifically, one of my primary research interests concerns gender and athletics, particurally gender in what has historically been considered “feminine sport.” (I’m thinking figure skating, gymnastics, beach volleyball…) I’ve found some work on men (and to a lesser extent, women) in boxing and wrestling, as well as a bit of work on “the body in sport.” However, if anyone has interesting suggestions concerning gender (especially femininity) in sport, I’d love to hear.
  • My second research interest considers how non-binary gender identities are presented in the media. While I plan to explore the academic writing in this area, I’d love to be pointed towards any books/magazine articles that present transgendered, genderqueer, or otherwise gender-variating individuals. I’d be especially interested in this portrayal in young adult lit, although I haven’t searched out if such books even exist.
  • The last request is the most personal. I have this complicated and uncomfortable relationship with the term “femme” and even I can’t quite figure out quite where my discomfort is coming from. What are your favorite books on queer femininity and butch/femme identities?

My friends, followers, and random passerbyers, please share. Let’s talk about books, baby.

Watch It: XXY

Tonight, I had the pleasure of viewing the Argentinian film XXY as part of the Florida State University’s Gay and Lesbian film festival.

Directed by Lucía Puenzo and based on the short story “Cinismo” by Sergio Bizzio (anyone know where I can find this?), this film explores the sexual awakening and life changing decisions of a intersex teenager, Alex, and her parents.

The trailer doesn’t do it justice, but I will share anyways.

The Spanish language trailer is a little more telling, for those who can understand it.

Given that the film is entitled XXY, I pulled out an old textbook, Transformations: Women, Gender, and Psychology, to check the facts. From page 138: “XXY, or Kleinfelter’s syndrome […] causes men to have a less masculine physique and appearance (small penis and testicles, enlarged breasts, little body hair, and a high-pitched voice).” However, those with Kleinfelter’s syndrome are men. In contrast, Alex presents as a woman, taking hormones to prevent masculinization, and posses both male and female genitalia.

Medical inaccuracies aside, XXY is a touching and challenging coming-of-age story. It managed to avoid sensationalism and exploitation, instead presenting a heart-felt human drama. It raises questions, and challenges our ideas of love, romance, identity, sexuality, and all the related definitions. I’ll admit it, this movie left me in tears.

I don’t want to say too much, because I think this is a film that everyone should watch.  Given that I saw this movie alone, I would like to decompress and debrief. How about this, dear readers: Add it to your Netflix cue, watch it, and then get back to me. There are many issues raised, and I’d love to start a conversation.

Review: Unleashing Feminism

I am a member of BookMooch, where I can give away books I no longer want in exchange for books I do want. You never know what books will be available, so sometimes, I like to select random books recommended for me through whatever algorithm the site employs.

Unleashing Feminism: Critiquing Lesbian Sadomasochism in Gay 90’s, a collection of radical feminist writings was one such book.

The key words drew me in. Feminism, check. Lesbian, Sadomasochism, check and check.

I tend to mark books when I love them. I underline quotations. I dog-ear the pages containing meaningful passages. While this books is as destroyed as many of my favorites, it is for the exact opposite reason. Few books have made me so angry.

One reviewer on Library Thing wrote, I have read many books in my day, feminist and otherwise. The arguments are poorly contructed at best and downright offensive at worst.” I couldn’t agree more.

The central argument of this book is that lesbian S&M is inseparable from Nazi genocide or American slavery. As a solution, all true lesbian/feminists must separate themselves from the S&M culture of mainstream queers, preferably through lesbian separatism. (Now this book was written in 1993, but I’m pretty sure that most people had realized by then that lesbian separatism was not a feasible solution.)

Though this book contains brief discussion on consent, the radial feminist authors continually question a woman’s ability to give consent and claim her desires. No woman can possibly genuinely want to explore S&M. She’s stuck under Nazi rule. She’s stifled by continued racial inequality. She’s used to police brutality. Rape is part of her daily life. This is what angered me the most.

Mr. Sexsmith explored the idea of consent and agency in the post “Reconciling the Identities of Feminist & Butch Top”, in which he discusses coming to terms with being masculine, queer, butch, sadistic, a top, and a feminist.

‘I didn’t realize how little trust I had in others until I started playing deeper with BDSM. Because I would tell myself, it’s okay, she wants to do it, but then I would think, does she really? Maybe she wants to because I want to. Maybe she wants to because society tells her she should want to. Maybe she wants to for fucked-up reasons, like she thinks it’s okay for her to feel humiliated and less than me because of her own internal misogyny … but that was me not trusting that what she said was true…”

He goes on.

‘This was an issue of agency, in feminist terms – my not trusting my lover to communicate with me what she wanted, to explain to me how far I could go, and my not trusting that she would let me know if I was going too far or too hard, either with her physical communication or her words or both, was me not trusting in the agency of my lover. I have to trust that she will tell me, she will let me know, if I am going too far…”

This is a fabulously worded example of how feminism, at its best, recognizes the agency inherent in each women. An empowered woman can claim whatever she wants and needs, sexually and otherwise. This is the essential point that the authors of Unleashing Feminism missed.

That doesn’t mean that everyone should explore S&M. You can be 100% vanilla and be entirely happy, and this is entirely fine. However, to me, feminism means acknowledging women’s agency. This is the very core of my feminist beliefs, and the reason the close-minded nature of the book irked me so.

The book did contain some good points. Surely, there is too much violence in our culture. It is a fact, the Nazis employed sexual sadism to dehumanize their victims and establish “power over.” The service sector is disproportionately populated by women, the sex industry included. Women are raped. S&M can be traumatizing for abuse survivors.

However, the Holocaust did not happen because of sexual sadism. Men also participate in the sex industry and boys- like girls- can be victimized. Not all men are evil. Some are genuinely loving, caring, and respecting. Some people have never experienced abuse, rape, or violence (myself included), and may choose to explore S&M with few or no personal hangups.

For a book presenting itself as academic writing, the examples presented throughout the text are poorly sourced and often entirely fabricated.

In short: Don’t read this book. And if you do read it, expect some total crap.

Current Obsession: Andrea Gibson

Andrea Gibson. I can’t get enough of her.

I’ve always loved slam poetry. I love the lyricism, the rhythm,  the word play. I love the brutal honestly, the hard truths. Now, I love Andrea Gibson.

I was lucky enough to see her perform the other night. I was even more lucky to be sitting all of about five feet away. I was also the lucky one to give her a piece of honey candy when her throat was scratchy.  And lucky enough to get a hug and be told that my “adorable smile made performing more fun” and that she likes my candy. (I may or may not have a huge crush…)

Anyways, back to the topic at hand. Her delivery was amazing. Despite touring over half the year, her performance seemed fresh. She is anti-war, dubious of organized religion, and supportive of all things queer- and unapologetic about all of it. That boldness is refreshing.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough cash to buy her CDs and book, but I will be ordering them online. I encourage you to do the same.  At the very least, at least check out her videos on Youtube.

And now I will leave you with a couple of my favorites: for anyone who has ever worked with children, for anyone who has ever been in love, and for those of us who dream of a more just world.

Sharing: Ghetto Ballet

I’m not a big television person, but when I do laundry at the ‘rents, I enjoy flipping on their flat screen TV and checking out what is “On Demand.”

Today, I came across the HBO documentary Ghetto Ballet. The documentary profiles several young dancers enrolled at Dance for All, South Africa’s first ballet-training program for youth from Cape Town’s poorest townships. The film offers a glimpse into the escape, dreams, and opportunities that ballet offers these young students. As a former dancer myself, I was fascinated. Moreover, I was impressed that the film explored issues of body ideals and poverty (This once again struck a personal chord, as I quit ballet largely because I tired of being told how my body was “wrong.”).

At 33 minutes in length, a lot was left out. However, it’s still an interesting documentary for anyone interested in the arts, Africa, dance, or youth in developing countries. It’s worth half an hour of your time.